There is something about that quote that gets my juices flowing. It makes me want to take to the keyboard or to pen and pad and write with such feverish delight that hours will pass with but a moment’s notice. But writing as a gun for hire is seldom like that.
Freelance writing requires careful preparation, timed inspiration and don’t forget quotations! (But enough of my poetry.) Freelancing really is about building a business and as an artist that can be a real downer.
We all became writers (well, those of you reading this, that are indeed, writers) because we had something we needed to express. That inner voice, the artist, that wanted to get something off his chest. The idea that we could paint a scene with the brush and canvas of page and pen. That we could reach a greater truth by showing and not telling. That this emotional truth will deliver such gravitas that our readers will cry and cheer along with us and that we will all be better off for having shared this with one another.
That is the dream. Ah, the wistful moments spent picturing long hours writing. Sitting in your log cabin by a lake in the early morning hours, finishing chapter after chapter. No boss micro-managing you, no gray cubicle life, no mundane water cooler conversations about who has a case of the MONDAYS. Just you and the blank page, maybe a cup of coffee and a terrific view.
Then reality hits. You are not the literary star of tomorrow (at least not yet) and you’ve got bills to pay and an active 14 month old that thinks the word naughty means “a lot more fun!” But at least you work from home (some days never getting out of your pajamas.)
Sure, technically, you’re your own boss but in order to get paid for what we do, we’re all beholden to somebody. Which means juggling deadlines, research, pitches, queries, corporate proposals and maybe even resume writing to make ends meet. It means meeting these obligations head on, even when your entire household is knocked out with the flu or the aforementioned child is breaking-in a molar! Because consistency is key when freelancing.
Your most successful freelancers are often times not the best writer available but the most consistent, good writer that an editor can drum up.
It also helps to know someone. Connections can get your foot in the door quicker than even the most well-written query. But how do you get to know those folks “in the know”? By networking and networking takes time and energy away from writing.
But in the 2010 world we’re all waking up to, folks, it’s the cup o’ joe you better get a whiff of and quick. Social media is taking the marketing world by storm and though it’s always kind of been about who you know, it is so now, more than ever before. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the employment listings in your local paper’s classifieds section. Even on a Sunday it is a paltry couple pages long and though their online classifieds are larger, any expert will tell you that most jobs aren’t even advertised with the paper (online or otherwise.)
So that means networking and for a freelancer this is your bread and butter. Again, this is kind of against the natural instincts of those of us that are inclined to choose such a solitary career path as writing, but it is a nonetheless a necessary skill out here in the wild. Social media makes it easier than ever before for those of us that are sitting endlessly at our laptops anyway, to stay connected and therefore gain a wider audience for our work.
This leads me to blogging. Something which I do and have done for the past five years with some relative regularity but probably not as regularly as necessary. Why? Because I’d rather be meeting those deadlines, wooing a new client or working on a short story or poem to feed my inner artist (that is, after all, why we started in this path in the first place isn’t it?)
But as I write this to remind you, it reminds me too. Blogging keeps you fresh, builds skills and an audience, hones your unique voice and can open doors to other writing opportunities. Just look at what a blog did for Julie Powell author of Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. A bestselling book and a movie starring Meryl Streep.
I could be the next Julie Powell and you can you too. Or Penelope Trunk for that matter, who is working on her second book deal all because she had a blog and she knew how to market it. Check out Penelope’s tips for getting that sx figure deal you’ve been dreaming about at her blog The Brazen Careerist and maybe, just maybe, that cabin in the woods won’t be such a faraway notion.
These are the things my writing life has been occupied with more and more lately and though I know that this is the future of publishing, marketing and writing, I do sometimes find myself wishing for the days of the private benefactor. That fabled time when the wealthy kept artists, playwrights, composers etc. in their stables – commissioned solely for the benefit of creating for them. I know, I know, that’s still being beholden to a master, you say.
To some commissioned work means compromising your artistic integrity, to others it means paying your bills doing what you love. There are trade offs either way – this is how I see it. You can keep your vision crystalline clear as your own start to finish but then have to sacrifice by giving up a huge chunk of your life to a “Joe Job” to pay your rent or you can take work (whose idea may not have been your impetus but it is yours nonetheless) and still make the rent. It is a choice each artist has to make for themselves.
When I was younger, I railed against selling out (some days you may still find me doing this.) But as I’ve gotten older the one thing that has become clear to me is that there are no absolutes in life. As comforting as a world of black and white may seem to the naive or uninitiated, it is nevertheless only one small piece of this puzzle we call life. In the shades of gray live our trade offs. What we’re willing to give up to get something of more value to our lives and perspectives. It is these trade-offs, these compromises that tell us more about ourselves and each other than most anything else.
Just make sure that when you weigh the pros and cons and make your compromises, they are not things which compromise your core values, whatever those may be. You will be richer for having made that important distinction. In spirit, if not in pocket.